Their kiss tasted of dust and dry skin. Leona ran her tongue across her cracked lips. In contrast, Robbie wiped his hand across his plump cupids bow. She wrapped her arms about his neck, but Robbie pushed her away as though she were a fly buzzing at his ear.
“Enough,” he said, grabbing his coat. “We’re over.”
Now she played that fly, offering the world a buzzing noise and jabbing her fingers into her ears. He yanked open the front door, almost tearing it from its frame.
“I’ll make your favourite for tea,” she shouted.
Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by several portions of steak pie and chips in various stages of decay, Leona suspected Robbie wasn’t coming home. She scraped food into the dishwasher and threw the plates in the bin. The sound of crockery smashing drowned her sobs.
She curled into the foetal position, the kitchen floor cold against her cheek, and remained there for a month. When her sobs had subsided and her stupor had ebbed away, Leona found she couldn’t move. Cobwebs bound her legs together. She tore at their silk and crawled across floor tiles littered with leaves and glass. The fanlight had smashed beneath the thump of a determined weed and a forest pressed against the house, blocking natural light. Leona wiped snot from her nose. Her skin tore, peeling like wallpaper.
Curiously, Leona found she had to stand on her tiptoes to see into the hall mirror. She pulled at the loose skin beneath her left eye surprised to find its removal didn’t reveal blood, raw skin or bone, that it offered nothing — a black hole swirling beneath her cheek. She thumped her chest. Sound echoed.
The front door proved further curiosity. The lock hovered a foot too high for her to reach. Leona dug her fingers between frame and wall, inching the door open. Thorns scratched her shins; the rosebush Robbie had planted the summer before offered blooms the size of his head.
Leona stared at the might of the neighbouring houses. Their chimneystacks touched clouds, and she could crawl through their cat flaps. A man walked by. She suspected his pinstripe trousers concealed stilts. She rushed back into the house.
Now, even standing on tiptoes, she could no longer see her reflection. Her back slid down the wall. She rubbed at her knee, peeling skin and revealing nothing beneath. It had all begun with Robbie.
A sob trembled. Leona brushed hair from her eyes. Yes, it had begun on the day he left.
Gathering Robbie’s clothes and other neglected things together, suffocating under each item’s weight, Leona climbed onto a plant pot, then onto the small wall bordering her garden, and dragged the wheelie bin down to her height. It almost crushed her. One by one, she dragged his clothes into the wheelie bin, pushed in a can of lighter fluid, tipping it up, and added flame to the mix. Her neighbours didn’t complain about the smoke wafting across their gardens. They were so tall and she was so small they probably didn’t notice.
With ‘their’ photo album balanced on the garden wall, Leona dragged scissors across Robbie’s face, scouring him from every photograph. With each destruction, the scissors became easier to wield.
Now she had to stoop to look in the mirror, and when she stood tall, her head hit the ceiling. While she had scrubbed Robbie from her bones, the house continued to yearn for him. If she had to, Leona would rip out every floorboard he’d nailed and smash every ornament he’d bought. A knock at the door interrupted her de-clutter.
The door almost broke from its hinges beneath her giant fist. Robbie stood on the step, a mouse of a man. She stooped to look at him and he craned his neck to look at her. His suit, a black smudge, hung off his emaciated limbs. She balled her fists, and found they were larger than his pea head.
“I forgot my…” he started.
“Me?” she asked, dropping a few inches.
Robbie ran his fingers through his hair and grew bald with the act. He also lost several fingernails.
“You’re falling apart without me,” she said.
He shook his head, shedding eyelashes and his incisors.
“You’ve come for your things.”
He nodded and his left eyebrow crawled down his cheek and dropped to his shoes.
“I can make you go away forever,” she whispered, the house expanding about her. “Your things are gone. I burned them.”
“Fair enough,” he said, then shuffled off. At the gate, he turned and offered a half-wave. “Sorry.”
Leona’s knees buckled, reducing her to her original height. The same word lodged in her throat. The house continued to grow, almost matching the surrounding houses brick for brick. If she could still see Robbie, she knew he would look insignificant.
On the outside, her house and her body had returned to normal, but her world hadn’t. Leona pencilled Robbie’s name onto the walls until she’d filled every available space. With a carving knife, she scratched his name onto the floorboards. Splinters dug into her knee. She dropped the knife when it became too big to wield.
Leona slumped against the skirting board. Her limbs stretched spider-like, taking up no more room than the smallest arachnid.
Sorry, he’d said. Sorry. Damn.
Cate Gardner is the author of the short story collection Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits. She has a novella, Barbed Wire Hearts, forthcoming from Delirium Books, and a short novel, Theatre of Curous Acts, from Hadley Rille Books.